Buy/Drive/Burn: Three-door Japanese SUVs in 1989

buy drive burn three door japanese suvs in 1989

Do you remember what the compact SUV market looked like in 1989? Me either. But it was a time where every Japanese manufacturer (except Honda, obviously) offered a three-door SUV. Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Isuzu all vie for your 1989 dollars.

Note: American market promo photos are hard to find, so foreign market photos shown.

Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan fielded a Pathfinder for the first time in 1987, in response to offerings from American manufacturers that were on sale since early in the decade. The first generation (WD21) was based on the Nissan Hardbody pickup, and shared its engines and four-wheel drive system. The last model year for the two-door Pathfinder was 1989 – it grew more doors in 1990 and never looked back. Today’s base model selection employs a 2.4-liter inline-four. 106 horsepower and 137 lb-ft of torque are handled via the four-speed manual transmission. The stylish grille slats at the front are also handy rust importers.

Mitsubishi Montero

Mitsubishi started production of the first generation Pajero in 1982, which it sold around the globe under various adventures in branding: Dodge, Hyundai, and Colt all badged their own versions. Initially a two-door model, Mitsubishi quickly introduced the long-wheelbase five-door in 1983. North American dealers received Monteros in the very first model year, and the range expanded to the five-door version in 1989. The base model (our selection) arrives via a 2.6-liter inline-four producing 109 horsepower and 142 lb-ft of torque. The manual transmission has five speeds, and since it’s not a V6 maybe it’ll leak less oil.

Isuzu Trooper

Isuzu beat Mitsubishi to the punch with their Trooper, offered since 1981. The Trooper was also branded globally by Holden, Chevrolet, SaangYong, and Subaru. Trooper was available in three- and five-door variants from the get-go. There was a bit of engine shuffling for American-bound Troopers for the first few years. Isuzu tried out a 2.3-liter four cylinder which burned itself up, and a turbodiesel which made 87 horsepower and liked to break apart internally. A new 2.6-liter was used in 1988, but that was replaced with GM’s 2.8-liter V6 from the S-10 for 1989. That means today’s Trooper offers 125 horsepower and a five-speed manual.

Three boxes with a rusty and rough-and-tumble attitude. Which goes home with the Buy?

[Images: Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi]

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  • Unionwolf Unionwolf on Jul 16, 2019

    You better put some respect on that Mitsubishi Montero. That's a 12 times Dakar rally winner

  • Victor Victor on Jul 16, 2019

    Buy the Pathfinder because I always loved those rins since the day I'd cross the Guanabara buy just to pick up the latest C&D from the one newstand in downtown Rio that sold imported magazines. Drive the Montero and burn the Isuzu.

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.